Friday, September 19, 2014

STDs in Bnei Brak?

Typical street scene in Bnei Brak
First let me clearly state that the vast majority of Charedim are God fearing Jews whose main purpose in life is to serve God to the best of their ability. The very term “Charedi’ means ‘trembler’. It is based on the notion that a truly religious Jew is Charedi L'Davar HaShem - trembles before God. 

This does not mean that they walk around obsessed and shaking with fear. What it means is that they understand the infinitely awesome nature of their Creator; go to great lengths to connect with Him and serve Him to the best of their ability. This is the primary focus of their lives.

And since Torah study is the most important Mitzvah, they try and spend the lion’s share of their time doing it. Without forsaking any of their other Halachic responsibilities to both man and God as they understand them.  Which they also perform to the best of their ability. Of course this does not mean that all succeed at the highest levels in all areas. But the vast majority of them do try.

Which is why I am so disappointed when Charedim are all painted with the same brush when bad behavior is exhibited by a small number of them.  Or when their Hashkafos are blamed for the OTD phenomenon. The fact is that going OTD in the Charedi world is the exception. Not the rule. The idea of being Chareid L’Dvar HaShem should apply to all of us. It is just another way of saying that we should all have Yiras Shomayim – being in Awe of Heaven (God). Not enough of us do that. At least not as much as we should.

That said, I am increasingly coming to believe that the numbers of OTD Charedim are beginning to increase exponentially. One of  the more intelligent, knowledgeable, and frequent contributors to my blog asked a question yesterday in the context of my MbP post that should not go unnoticed. I will repeat it here: 
“Why do so many frum, married women have genital herpes?” 
In a subsequent comment she explained how she knew this: 
I do know someone in obstetrics in Mayanei Hayeshua which is a major charedi hospital in Bnai Brak who knows that many frum women have acquired STD's (sexually transmitted diseases) including but not limited to genital herpes after years of marriage ... most likely due to husband's philandering.  
I must admit that this is quite shocking news. I know this contributor personally and she is as honest as the day is long. A woman of great integrity. There is no way she would make a statement like that if it weren’t true. I therefore submit that her source in obstetrics in Bnei Brak is impeccable or she wouldn't have quoted her. This isn’t just just a run of the mill rumor. This is an observation by a medical professional specializing in obstetrics who works with these patients daily. She is an eyewitness to it.

Many Frum married women! Many!  Wow!

Like I said, the vast majority of them do not have this problem. But many do. How many? I don’t know. As a percentage of the whole it is probably very small. But in terms of sheer numbers, the word many sounds shocking to me. It is a lot more than a few.

The question is why is this case? It is very nice to focus on the positive and say how truly pure the masses mostly are. But what about the ‘many’ who aren’t and their innocent - even unintended victims of STDs, their wives? It is quite likely that most of the Charedi women raised in Bnei Brak who have this problem aren’t even aware how STDs are transmitted. Thus perpetuating their own problem by having sexual relations with infected husbands even after they are treated for the disease.

And it isn’t only women that philandering Bnei Brak husbands are involved with. It is men too. From a Ynet article of a few months ago: 
Some 5,600 religious homosexuals have joined the Hod organization (an acronym for religious gays in Hebrew) since its establishment in 2008, according to figures presented by the organization in a special seminar held in collaboration with the Israel Psychological Association. 
Hod founder Rabbi Ron Yosef presented data showing that the organization received 6,325 appeals since its establishment, 5,585 of them from haredi and religious homosexuals and 740 from parents, educators, counselors and professionals. 
About 70% of the appeals came from the national-religious sector, and about 30% from the haredi and Hasidic sectors.

These are shocking numbers too. Especially if one considers the fact that ‘outing’ yourself as gay in Bnei Brak is a prescription for being shunned by friends, neighbors, family and religious leaders… your entire world! My guess is that most homosexuals in Bnei Brak are keeping themselves on the ‘down-low’. No one knows. They tend to follow community customs and get married. But they tend to cheat on their wives with other homosexual men on a regular basis. And since they want to keep secret that they are gay, they certainly don't go to treatment centers like HOD.

The focus should not be on those who live according to the ideals of Charedi Hashkafos. It ought to be on those who do not.  Even if they are only a small percentage and behave in a way that does not reflect  their real values. Because ‘many’ is not an acceptable number.

I have said this before and I think it is worth repeating. It is not the Hashkafa that is the problem. It is they way it is observed.  The fact happens to be that the focus on Torah study to the virtual exclusion of all else means that there are ‘many’ Charedim who cannot handle this lifestyle. They are not cut out for a life in the Beis HaMedrash. 

They would be far better off finding a niche whereby they can utilize their own unique talents in service of God. While there are many who at some point realize full time Torah study is not for them and make successful transitions to the workplace, there are many who fall through the cracks. And have nowhere to turn other than a world that has been characterized as the street. Whose values are characterized as the antithesis of the Torah.

It is also the fact that they have no outlet for just plain old ‘blowing off steam’. They are not allowed to go to movies, watch television, use the internet, watch sports, or even play them. If they are not in the Beis Hamedrash, they have nothing  to do… except get into trouble. Which lately means discovering the world outside via the internet. Which they somehow access. And without any preparation for it, they discover outlets that are far less kosher than a game of basketball with friends would be. Or even watching it on television. It is almost a straitjacket lifestyle for those who do not quite fit in to the mold of ‘learner’. A straight-jacket from which they desperately want to escape.

I’m sure that there are plenty of other reasons for this problem. But I can’t help but suspect that the rigid lifestyle that the typical Bnei Brak Jew leads is in part the cause of those who are not cut out for it - going OTD in a big way.

I have yet to see anyone address this issue other than a few articles here and there and a few courageous individuals who have taken it upon themselves to help young people who are victimized by the system. There is precious little being done - it seems - to deal with those who are victims and yet have managed to get married and have families, all while on the down-low - they are having affairs. It seems as though that community is in denial about it. Because all I ever hear about this community is how successful they are as a whole. What about the ‘many’ who aren’t? Well, if you don’t talk about them, I guess they don’t exist.